OPINION: Don’t focus on impairments - help people fly - Sophie Mei Lan

On paper I am the perfect ‘tick box’ exercise for any diversity form.

I have a range of disabilities from mental health problems to dyspraxia and dyslexia, not to mention being from a ‘diverse background.’ While I can be the perfect tick box for an institution’s diversity targets, my brain has a power to think well outside of any box. If my powers are recognised, I can fly even higher.

Unfortunately, however, I am often expected to conform and ‘fit in’ and my disabilities are just understood as an area of weakness in my ability to achieve. Yes, my disabilities can impair myself and many others in a range of areas, but with appropriate support and technology, talents can be recognised and someone’s super powers can be harnessed and celebrated.

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It’s the important difference between promoting diversity to actually championing a more inclusive and powerful world. Rather than focus on a person’s impairments, we should be discovering their passions, their talents and their unique powers that make them fly.

It is such transformations that make superheroes in movies too. I have seen so many transformations with people I have coached too sharing my knowledge of digital skills and media with a focus on building someone’s confidence in mind, body and in career. People who have been previously labelled and pigeonholed by their disability. People who are expected to either conform to societal norms or they are shunned and defined only by their disability or any vulnerability rather than their unique personality and talents. Often it is their so-called ‘impairment’ that has enabled them to be skilful in other areas.

We just need to make an effort to understand an individual and how they best express themselves, how they learn best, how they live best and how to help them unlock their superpowers so they can flourish. I have witnessed it so often with talented creatives, professionals, sportspeople and more… all who have previously struggled to fit in at school or work, but once they have found their ‘genius flow,’ they can fly. Yes, if you have a disability, you often need specialised support to enable you to change into your cape but I would say that with vulnerability comes strength.

But too often these powers aren’t recognised or realized because we make assumptions about what a person with disabilities cannot do and their ‘limited capacity’ becomes their identity in society’s eyes.

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I talk so much about my own conditions, my diagnosis’ and even accept that by doing so I may be labelled and judged, but I continue to do so because I want to show that my talents shine brighter than my disabilities. I talk about them to try and combat the stigma around anyone who does not fit societal norms, so that eventually people will realise that disabilities or vulnerabilities can be someone’s strength.

My dyspraxia and dyslexia enable me to be creatively talented while my mental health problems give me the power of empathy and have allowed to me to discover my purpose and passion in life. What are your superpowers?

You can read more from Sophie Mei Lan at mamamei.co.uk and her magazine which supports all families to get active at YorkshireFamilies.co.uk or you can follow her @TheSparkleCoach on social media.